Play and Interplay

Play and InterplayA series of concerts and discussions between musicians and the audience

Anu Vehviläinen
Sibelius Academy, DocMus Department

Spring 2011

(English translation: Päivi Tikkanen)

Summary

This publication reports the experiences and results of planning, preparing, and implementing the Play and Interplay (Vuorovaikutus-workshop) project at the Sibelius Academy in the autumn of 2010.  This interactive project included 14 concerts by 53 musicians from all Sibelius Academy performance departments and forums for discussion for an audience of 25, invited via two adult education centres. The following areas of interest for the Sibelius Academy were covered in the project: interaction between musician and audience, art education, development of concert events and formats, and the musician as an artist. The objective was to find research and development subjects for these areas of interest. The project was supported by the Sibelius Academy Development Centre.

This project was part of my Open Artist – Dear Audience (Avoin taiteilija – Arvoisa yleisö) programme, which includes several subprojects, operating at the interface between artists and the audience. The objective of the programme is to shed light on and demystify the concept of an artist and to find new research and development subjects. In addition to the Play and Interplay project, the programme includes literature and lecture series on being an artist and a series of communicative piano recitals.

Below, I will present some conclusions, development subjects, and open questions that resulted from the project to be used to the advantage of the Sibelius Academy. Chapter 6 describes two new projects, currently in preparation, that emerged from the Play and Interplay project.

Conclusions

1.     The implementation of this project made it a positive experience both for the audience and the performers.

2.     Education projects not only enhance the well-being of the audiences and music life but also can be an important factor in the personal growth of a musician. Therefore, professional music education should be developed keeping the relationship with audiences in mind.

3.     The musicians who participated in the project considered education projects to be a meaningful and important part of their work as artists.

4.     Musicians seem to become more engaged in education projects when they feel that attention, consideration, and respect are shown for them and their personas.

5.     The audiences first reacted to the musicians in a critical manner and later in a supportive one.

6.     The audience members became more tolerant toward unfamiliar genres.

7.     The audience group became more familiar with and understanding of the work of a musician, which made them more appreciative of the profession.

8.     The project was long and regular enough to enable the participants to not just become more knowledgeable but also to learn by experience.

Development subjects

1.     The education of musicians should include audience projects on what it means to be a musician.

2.     The writing of concert programmes.

3.     Discussion and listening groups sharing the musical experience in a group.

4.     ”Music clinics” focusing on different areas and genres of music (e.g. modern music).

5.     Sharing the practice process with the audience.

6.     Sibelius Academy season tickets for themed concert series.

Open questions

1.     What kind of criticism does a musician need? What is the significance of audience feedback for a musician and for music and for an artist and the arts? How and when should it be possible to level criticism at an artist?

2.     What makes a successful concert? What extra-musical factors (premises, speech parts, performer’s habitus, etc.) can spoil a concert despite an excellent musical performance?

3.     How can the audience be invited to express more of their opinions and views?

1. Background

I came up with the idea for the Play and Interplay project in the autumn of 2009. As a performing pianist, I had given plenty of thought to my relationship with the audience and experimented with various methods of communicating with the listeners other than just playing the piano. During my doctoral studies (Sibelius Academy 2001–2008), I had given lecture concerts, where I did not just play the piano but talked to the audience and also answered their questions after the recital. Hearing comments from the audience was an enormous pleasure for me. Toward the end of 2009, I planned a series of ”communicative piano concerts” for the coming spring with a shorter programme than what is typical in a traditional recital. I would play for about 40 minutes and then give a cursory talk about the background of the works, and, finally converse with the audience about the concert. The audience was invited to ask questions, and I asked them questions, as well: about the impressions the musical works had inspired, their customs related to concert-going, and so forth.

These interactive events started a flow of mental activity in me. First, it was interesting to hear about other people’s impressions of works I already had a special bond with. Second, after I heard how a work of music affected a member of the audience, performing and succeeding in the performance became less important for me. Discussions with the audience seemed to be a meaningful addition to normal concert practices. Unfortunately, the discussions had usually just got going when we had to stop. This led to the idea of a method of interaction that would take my experiments one step further and be more fixed as a format. The result was a project with a specified audience group and an opportunity for them to come together on a regular basis.

2. Planning

I planned the project around the turn of 2009–2010. I decided to compile a concert series based on an existing repertoire: The Sibelius Academy Soiva Akatemia concert series is quite an extensive and high-end presentation of the university’s performance palette. In the series, I included at least one performance by each participating department (the DocMus department of music performance and research, the departments of piano music, vocal music, orchestral instruments, church music, jazz, folk music, music education, and composition and music theory, and the early music study line). The concert series, then, included two concerts tailored for the project by students from the DocMus department; other concerts were from the Soiva Akatemia series.

The programme of the concert series is attached to the Finnish version of this report (Appendix 1).

To convene the audience group, I was advised to contact adult education centres in the metropolitan region. As a result, groups from the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki and the Finnish Adult Education Centre of the City of Helsinki each promised to provide an audience group; the rest was up to me.

The planning took six months, and the plans changed after every discussion about the project. My key partners in discussion during the project were Risto Vehviläinen, an expert in project management, and Anna Krohn, a Sibelius Academy producer. In addition, I talked to dozens of people about the practices and principles of this project. I met an array of people who enriched the project with their comments even before it was launched. My own ideas about the audience were developed in discussions with musicians, where they expressed their views on the relationship with the audiences and education projects. Several of them shared my views: it is commendable for musicians to seek contact with the audience, share their ideas about their work, and communicate in as many ways as possible.

3. Preparation

The preparations, an extensive and varied series of actions, are described in detail in the Finnish version of this report (Appendix 2).

4. Implementation

4.1. Objective

The objective of the project was to find research and development subjects related to the interaction between a musician and the audience. My personal goal was to create a context for proper discussions that would bring to light more than the sporadic meetings with an artist usually arranged for the public would.  I was not looking for a specific format; I just wanted to create an open, audience-friendly atmosphere for the discussions.

4.2. Concerts and musicians

The project included performances by approximately 60 musicians. Of them, 53 participated in the discussions. In the preparatory phase, I had informed the musicians about the idea of the project. When the concerts drew nearer, I wanted to see the musicians face to face. Shortly before every concert, I met with them to discuss the themes and processes of the concert and, above all, the relationship with the audience. These meetings were a rule at the beginning of the project. Toward the end of the project, fewer meetings were arranged due to personal schedules and other intervening factors. However, I made efforts to meet every performer and discussion participant, even if only briefly, before the actual concert so that we would at least recognize each other’s faces when the discussion began.

I also asked for feedback about the discussion with the audience from all the musicians. I phoned every one of them after the concerts and had the chance to listen to interesting and thoughtful reflections. Unfortunately, due to lack of time toward the end of the project, I failed to listen to the ponderings of all participating musicians and, therefore, cannot present comments from all of them.

4.3. Audience group

The first concert took place on Tuesday, 7 September 2010. A total of 31 participants had enrolled in the audience group via the adult education centres. The group met before the first concert at the Sibelius Academy’s R-Building. The number attending was 23.

I informed the group about the background and some practicalities of the project and then gave the floor to the group. I asked the participants, in turn, what they expected from the project and what their relationship to music was. I soon realized that we were starting from a point that was better than I had ever expected. The group consisted of people who were sincerely willing to participate in the project and share their thoughts with the group. The idea of openness and active sharing seemed to have penetrated. The group participants described their musical and other interests and learning expectations vividly. The first meeting lasted for an hour; then it was time to listen to the piano recital of the composer-pianists Holmström, Kilpiö, and Pohjonen.

The group participants shared information about themselves to their own liking. Occupational statuses were not shared as a default, nor did I inquire about them. According to my estimate, most of the participants were between 30 and 60 years of age; one or two of them may have been younger or older. My view of the group was that they were mostly professional adults with an interest in music–at least in listening to music, but often also playing an instrument or singing. This information is based on my personal assessment, not statistics. Musical interests were, however, communicated overtly by the participants during the group discussions. There were two participants who never showed up after the first meeting. However, three new, extremely active members joined the group at a later stage of the project. The average attendance for the discussions was 10-15. Some of the participants found it difficult to attend the discussions, which took place at a fairly late hour.

All participants shared a few characteristics: they were nice, friendly, and adaptable. I felt privileged to work with them immediately. The constitution of the group was a mystery to me up to the first meeting, and I relied completely on the adult education centres for this. I had not outsourced anything other than compiling the audience group, and it was the only thing that was outside of my control. When I then met with the group, I could not believe how lucky I was. If there had been problems, such as hostile participants in the group, the project could have been much more challenging. However, the circumstances were ideal: for a series of top concerts I had a brilliant and active audience. Things could not have been any better.

4.4. Communications

To record the essential parts of the discussions, I decided to recruit a scribe; as the moderator of the group, I was not able to take notes. At this point, I was lucky to find Päivi Järviö, a researcher, vocalist, and assistant for the DocMus Department. She attended all concerts and discussions but one (and was then replaced by Leena Julin, a pianist) and documented most of the information that was exchanged in the post-concert discussions. She is a rapid and accurate scribe, which ensured an extensive recording of the discussions. Päivi Järviö was also present at the first meeting and the two separate feedback sessions to take down what was said. Her excellent skills made it possible for me to concentrate on the moderation of the discussions.

During the summer months, I had launched a web site (www.vehvilainen.net) with information on the project. A summary of each discussion was published on the site. A day after each concert, Päivi Järviö sent me her transcription of the related discussion. I then edited, summarized, and uploaded the text on the web site, where it was available for anybody interested. The site featured a newsgroup as well,  where comments were invited and received for the summaries. At times, the audience group posted their thoughts after the concert in the newsgroup.

The discussions are available at http://www.vehvilainen.net/?cat=22 (in Finnish).

Most of the weekly communication took place on a mailing list, which included most of the group members. I was able to reach those not on the list by SMS messages. I usually confirmed the coming concerts via the mailing list or SMS. Sometimes I attached the concert programme if it was available in time. I mainly reminded the group of the time and place of the concerts.

4.5. Discussions

I kept the discussions restricted to the members of the pre-selected audience group because I wanted to provide the group with a relaxed atmosphere, which could have been disturbed by any stray listeners. The discussion usually started before the musicians arrived. I asked the participants to share their views on the concert. It was usually at this point that any possible criticism was vented. The musicians usually arrived at the meetings in a haphazard manner: sometimes one by one, sometimes as a group. At the beginning, I was open to all formats of moderation. Gradually, I ended up preparing targeted questions to be asked at points of silence among the audience and to be left out at points of independent discussion between the audience and the musicians. The first post-concert discussion was a surprise for me. I had prepared a long list of questions but ended up trying to decide who in the animated audience was to speak next, not getting much chance to speak myself. I was happy to notice that unexpected topics were taken up in the discussions. I had launched a search for the voice of the audience, and there it was.

5. Results

5.1. Observations by the musicians

I received feedback from both the musicians and the audience group in connection with the concerts and discussions during the entire project. The feedback was always positive: The audience commented on the concerts, and the musicians praised the audience and deemed the discussions successful and well-designed. The musicians seemed more or less astonished: where did this excellent audience come from? As mentioned earlier, I collected systematic feedback from the musicians, as well, especially at the beginning of the project. I phoned them the day after the concert to hear what they thought about the discussion and interaction after the concert. The majority of the musicians were extremely positive about the events; no more than two of them were highly critical.

Excerpts from the feedback from the musicians are available in the Finnish version of this report (Appendix 3).

5.2. Audience feedback

I invited feedback from the audience in two ways: I arranged two discussions (which were documented), and I issued questionnaires. The feedback discussions took place in connection with the last two concerts on 1 and 8 December in the R-Building café. In the first meeting, I issued a questionnaire to all participants, giving some background information on the questionnaire topics, and asked them to fill it in. We also discussed some of the most unforgettable moments in the project. In the second meeting, the items in the questionnaire were our inspiration for a discussion of feelings about and experiences of the project. The questionnaire was answered in writing by 18 of the 25 participants. The total of 25 included all those who were present more than once. From these, only two attended once or twice; the rest attended more than five times.

The questionnaire is available in the Finnish version of this report (Appendix 4).

There were a number of questions to answer, which caused some discrepancy in the results. For example, question number 6, ”What was good?”, elicited similar answers as question number 10, ”What was your experience of the concerts?”, and so on. The participants were advised to answer the questions freely, using their own words; as a result, the answers are not uniform. The participants’ memories, level of attention, willingness to write, and style of writing are all reflected in the answers. At the same time, this method served my needs by allowing the participants to voice their individual opinions better than a multiple choice form would have done, and it helped me to come up with new ideas for the interaction between a musician and the audience.

Excerpts from the audience feedback are available in the Finnish version of this report (Appendix 5).

5.3. Summary of the results

The comments received from the musicians and the audience, as well as my own observations during the project, form the basis of the results of this project. I have divided the results into three groups: 1. conclusions and opinions, 2. suggestions for development subjects, and 3. open questions, which continued to exercise the minds of the audience and the musicians, not to mention myself.

5.3.1. Conclusions and opinions

–       The implementation of this project made it a positive experience both for the audience and the performers.

o   Interaction in the project was deemed positive for both the audience and the musicians. No more than 2 of the 53 musicians were critical of the discussions.

–       Musicians participating in the project considered education projects to be a meaningful and important part of their work.

o   Several musicians feel that the 19th-century idea of a musician as a remote genius is outdated, and they accept interaction in the education projects as a meaningful part of their work.

–       Education projects enhance the well-being of not just the audiences and music life as such, but they can also be an important factor in the musician’s personal growth.

–       Education of music professionals should also be developed in terms of the audience relationship.

o   Musicians can reflect thoroughly on their work by sharing their profession and relationship with music with the audience; this is vital for an artist.

o   The project put into specific terms some of the issues associated with the relationship between a musician and the audience.

o   Encountering the audience in discussions is challenging for a musician and evokes a number of thoughts related to the central questions of artistic work.

o   All musicians should ask themselves, at least once during their careers, what their relationship with the audience is.

o   This need will be met through my project titled ”The Birth of a Musical Performance” (Musiikkiesityksen synty).

–       Musicians seem to become more engaged in education projects when they feel that attention, consideration, and respect are shown for them and their personas.

o   An important part of the project for me was meeting with the musicians. It gave me a chance to prepare for the discussions better. I also wanted to make the musicians feel that education projects are respectful and attentive toward them.

o   After several one-on-one discussions with as many musicians as possible before the discussions with the audience, I felt that my approach to the project was personal and simple enough throughout the project. Despite the great number of participating musicians, the project never got out of control or became ”faceless”.

–       Audience feedback as a form of criticism

o   Musicians often receive feedback only through newspaper criticism, which is always the opinion of one individual, or as polite phrases from colleagues.  Comments from ”laymen” are a welcome addition to this scanty repertoire.

–       The audiences first reacted to the musicians in a critical manner and later in a supportive one.

–       The audience group became more familiar with and understanding of the work of a musician, which made them more appreciative of the profession.

o   During the autumn-long process, the audience group became more aware of what and how to communicate with a musician immediately after a concert.

o   The group’s understanding and respect for musicians and their work was enhanced.

o   The group was overwhelmed by the chance to meet musicians after the concerts. The group came to know each other quite well during the 14 sessions, which made the participants less anxious about addressing the musicians and speaking in public, something that is not easily achieved in occasional meetings with a musician. The musicians contributed the discussions with plenty of information, and they also shared of themselves in a way that is not common in the art music sphere. In this way, the artist, who used to be a remote and mysterious figure,  became more ”human”, a phenomenon greeted with satisfaction.

–       The learning process was enhanced by the regular meetings.

o   Because of the regularity of the schedule and extensive duration of the project, the audience group was cohesive and learned a lot.

–       The audience members became more tolerant toward unfamiliar genres.

–       The audience group’s learning outcomes were extensive.

o   The group reported having learned about music terminology, works of music, composers, musical instruments, and different genres. Hearing the musicians talk in person made them more approachable and human. The discussions as a whole shed light on the demanding nature of the work of a musician. The versatile education provided by the Sibelius Academy was also presented. The project included music from various genres, which encouraged the audience to attend concerts of a more varied nature. The role and responsibility of a listener in a concert were also considered to be important.

o   The project provided the participants with more knowledge and, above all, experiences. Several participants reported having experienced an inner development process triggered by the regular concerts and discussions. This was often considered to be the most important learning outcome of the project. A number of participants said that they had learned something about their own habits and attitudes. They considered the project to have broadened their minds and encouraged them to explore new frontiers.

o   The group was active in proposing themes and topics for the discussion. An important theme was the listener’s responsibility for a concert. As the project progressed, the deepening reflection of the themes was appreciated by a number of participants.

–       The private nature of the discussions was an advantage.

o   A closed group was a beneficial choice in that it promoted the learning process in the group, alleviated anxiety about public speaking, and helped to create a friendly atmosphere in the group.

5.3.2. Development subjects

–       More audience-friendly concert programmes

o   It was noticed during the project that the standard of concert programmes in the different Sibelius Academy departments varied; some departments did not provide concert programmes at all. The Sibelius Academy lacks an agreement on how to write a good concert programme.

o   This deficiency will be made up by my new initiative, Käsiohjelma tänään (Concert Programmes Today).

–       Concerts with discussion groups

o   The audience group appreciated the chance to come together in connection with a concert: listening to a concert together and talking about it was an experience that many would like to continue in the future.

o   Study circles, listening to music, and discussing it in writing after a concert.

–       Play and Interplay to become a regular feature at the Sibelius Academy

o   A number of participants stated a straightforward wish for this method of interaction. Factual knowledge about music was considered less important (only one of the respondents wished for more emphasis on informational content). Two more important factors: a) becoming familiar with the artists and their profession via discussions and b) the evolution of personal processes in the meetings and discussions.

o   The participants appreciated being a part of the discussion group as equals: though not professional, their comments were considered interesting.

–       Music clinics

o   Clinics to elaborate on the theoretical and analytical content of a specific field in music.

o   Clinics on modern music.

o   Concerts with both modern and traditional music, which would lower the threshold for exploring new phenomena.

–       Sharing the practice process

o   A course or workshop uncovering a musical process: the process before a performance with practice and rehearsal sessions.

o   This wish will be met through my project, Musiikkiesityksen synty (The Birth of a Musical Performance).

–       Season tickets for Sibelius Academy concerts

o   Various types of season tickets for the Sibelius Academy concerts were proposed. A concert series such as the Play and Interplay project, with a versatile, pre-selected programme, will encourage the audience to attend concerts with various types of music.

5.3.3. Open questions

–       What kind of criticism does a musician need? What is the significance of audience feedback for a musician and for music and for an artist and the arts? How and when should it be possible to level criticism?

o   Whose criticism should musicians listen to – or should they? Is the audience a paying customer with the right to make a complaint if they don’t like what they hear?

o   Should a musician listen to anybody’s feedback? Or can a musician refuse to listen to criticism? Musicians closing their ears – is it arrogance or self-protection?

o   Interaction always depends on the people involved. Important factors include expressive skills, choice of words, and personality. Interaction poses a risk.

o   Oral interaction immediately after a concert – what can be asked, and what cannot? Are there any better points of time or methods? What are they?

o   How useful is audience feedback? Is it harmful? How?

–       How can the audience be invited to express more of their opinions?

o   The voice of the audience that was being looked for was heard in the numerous questions and comments by the audience. The musicians did not really present any questions to the audience, even when offered a chance and encouraged to do so.

o   What can a musician ask the audience?

o   How can the audience’s opinions be solicited?

–       What makes a successful concert?

o   Which extra-musical factors (premises, speech parts, performer’s habitus, etc.) can spoil a concert despite an excellent musical performance?

o   What is the responsibility of the audience for a concert?

6. Further projects

Two further projects based on the Play and Interplay project are being prepared for next autumn. One focuses on the preparatory process of a music performance and the other on concert programmes.

1) The Birth of a Music Performance is a project based on the results of the Play and Interplay project, developing further education and providing a new learning environment in a context that focuses on education projects and expands the traditional role of a musician. The project personnel comprise Anu Vehviläinen and Pertti Haukola, M.Sc. (Technology), MBA. The project includes a course by the DocMus Department directed at doctoral students and the public.

In this project, interaction will take place prior to the concert. The musicians and the audience group will have a chance to discuss the process of preparing a music performance. The project will research the preparation process before a concert, playing an instrument, musical works, and the participants’ various ways of thinking and doing that complement each other. The experiences and findings of the project will be collected. The objective of the project is to examine how the interaction in this process benefits the musicians and the audience. Another objective is to find new ways of interaction between a musician and the audience.

The course included in this project will be directed at doctoral students and members of the audience interested in understanding the preparatory phase before a concert as an entity, the process of playing an instrument, and musical works, as well as at non-professional musicians looking for impulses and new ideas for the preparation of their performances.

a)     This project will provide doctoral students with a chance to share their musicianship and to articulate their tacit knowledge, to explore the structure of their personal artistic processes, and to bring about a new interactive phase in a new learning environment.  The project will also provide doctoral students with influences and approaches not typically present in music education: the audience group participants, with their various backgrounds, will provide a view of different ways of thinking and acting.

b)    The audience group participants, for their part, will examine the process of playing and the birth of a music performance; they will compare these processes with their own expertise, learn from them, and share ideas born from this with the group.

2) The Concert Programme Today will answer the question regarding the content and meaning of a concert programme raised in the Play and Interplay project. The audience group’s final feedback forms included several comments on concert programmes. The standard of concert programmes in the different Sibelius Academy departments varied; some departments did not provide concert programmes at all.  The Sibelius Academy lacks an agreement on how to write a good concert programme. The Concert Programme Today project will address this deficiency. Currently, even good concert programmes are quite unbalanced, a fact that this project will explore, looking for new possibilities.

The project has two stages:

The Sound Concert Programme initiative will provide Sibelius Academy students with an online resource stating the basic requirements for a concert programme. This resource will help performers write a professional and presentable concert programme. The initiative will be implemented in association with the Sibelius Academy’s producer team.

The Programme with Potential initiative will push back the frontiers of concert programme writing with regard to both text and format. The first undertaking in this initiative will concern the Department of Vocal Music: Anu Vehviläinen will produce the concert programme for Yhden yön juttu (One Night Stand), an opera by Olli Kortekangas, to be premiered in the new Helsinki Music Centre. Vehviläinen will follow the work of as many people involved in the production as possible, and interviews will be conducted. The objective is to produce musician-oriented text for programmes; explore the possibilities of a concert programme, partly online; and shed light on the various processes involved in the production.

Another experimental programme will be created in the autumn 2011-spring 2012 season for a production/concert to be defined later. This undertaking may involve one of the DocMus Department doctoral students.

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